Portsmouth’s Black Trumpet Bistro made its way onto our “hopeful reservations” list when Meredith read about it in eat. shop. new england – a wonderful gift from our good friend Chelsey Brennan, which contains a number of our favorite, locally owned shops and restaurants in Portland and other parts of New England (you should check it out if you’re from the area, planning a trip, or looking to get your fill of regional envy). As author Jan Faust Dane puts it, “Black Trumpet kinda has it all.”, and Mere and I would have to agree – delicious, locally sourced food, a great selection of beer, wine, and drinks, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and an atmosphere chock-full of the classic, old seaport charm that makes downtown Portsmouth such a cool place. All of these things came together to create a truly memorable evening that turned out to be more of an “experience” than just a meal.
From the moment we set foot in town, our evening in Portsmouth just seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. Gus & Ruby was unusually quiet, which gave us the opportunity to explore the shop, make over its half-namesake, Gus, and have a great conversation about local food and restaurants with one of its owners, Sam. When she gave Black Trumpet her endorsement as one of her favorite restaurants in town, we knew we were in for a treat, and when she told us to say hey to her good friend R.J., we were somewhat unaware of how awesome that introduction would turn out to be.
Just a few blocks away, set right on the water, Black Trumpet Bistro is split between a cozy, romantic downstairs dining area, and a slightly more relaxed upstairs bar. Although our reservations were for downstairs, Meredith and I arrived a little too early (we were excited!) and slid upstairs to grab a drink – another bit of chance that ended up shaping our evening. In true Map & Menu fashion, it was an early dinner and we had our pick of the tables. We settled by the window overlooking the water, ordered our drinks (the signature Black Trumpet for Mere, and a local and tasty Throwback Rye Amber for me) and a Harbison and Naked cheese plate, and shortly thereafter switched our reservation to stay upstairs. It took all of 5 minutes in the smallish area to meet R.J. Joyce, Sam’s friend, the Black Trumpet wine buyer, and part of the family behind White Gate Farm in Epping, N.H. – which happens to be one of the many local resources for Black Trumpet’s delicious meals. Over the next couple of hours, while somehow keeping an eye on the steadily crowing crowd around us, R.J. would drop by our table to check on our meal, make a few suggestions, and chat about farming in New England, foraging for certain wild ingredients, wines and beers, restaurants in both Maine and New Hampshire, and, of course, the food and cooking of chef Evan Mallett, the man behind the Black Trumpet. R.J. proved to be a great source of knowledge on all of these and more, and if we’re ever in Portsmouth for their open-air market, or in Epping, we’ll definitely be checking out the farm.
In the spirit of well-prepared, fresh, local ingredients, we sampled local radishes, cannelloni beans, and spinach in shallot oil – a fantastic combination. Mere thoroughly enjoyed her Baked Polenta Stuffed Mission Fig and Wild Salad, and my Veal Breast in Puff Pastry was so tender and delicious, I found myself seriously fighting the urge to order a second course. The Jonathan Edwards Merlot that R.J. had us try, paired with each of our meals perfectly. Our night was already a fantastic success and unforgettable experience, long before the oh-so-decadent White Chocolate Mint Pot de Crème arrived to put us over the top, and our only regret turned out to be that Gus & Ruby had closed for the evening before we had the chance to pop back in to thank Sam for the introduction. We are seriously looking forward to our next visit to this delicious location!